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Behavioural and neurobiological similarities have been identified between the consumption of certain foods and addiction-related disorders. However, few studies have investigated what components of food may promote an addictive-like response in humans. This review evaluates recent research concerning the nutritional aspects of addictive-like eating.

Based on the current evidence base, highly processed, hyper-palatable foods with combinations of fat and sugar appear most likely to facilitate an addictive-like response. Total fat content and glycaemic index also appear to be important factors in the addictive potential of foods. Despite public interest and evidence from animal studies, few studies have reported an association between sugar and addictive-like eating.



Over recent decades, the food environment has changed dramatically, paralleling the rise in the prevalence of obesity [1]. Globally, 36.9% of males and 38.0% of females are classified as overweight or obese [2], and projections estimate that 58% of the population will be overweight or obese by the year 2030 [3]. Alongside this, there has been an increased availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods that can be produced and purchased inexpensively, when compared to healthier options [4, 5]. Globally, dietary intake patterns have shifted towards higher energy-density diets [6], with a 450-kcal/day increase in the availability of calories per capita worldwide from the 1960s to the 1990s [7], and even greater increases (600 kcal/
day) per capita in the USA [8]. Increases in certain food portion sizes [9, 10], snacking frequency [11] and density of fast food restaurants [12] have also been documented. The omnipresent nature of hyper-palatable foods may contribute to problematic eating behaviour and potential weight gain in
vulnerable individuals [13, 14].

A burgeoning body of evidence suggests that there are behavioural [15, 16], neurobiological [16–18] and genetic [19–21] similarities between the consumption of certain foods and addiction-related disorders and that these may have the potential to facilitate overeating and weight gain in susceptible individuals [16, 22]. The relationship between dietary patterns, brain function and mental disorders has been the subject of intense research over recent years [23•]. However, while the term “food” addiction has been wellaccepted by the general public [24], few studies have sought to investigate the specific components of food that promote an addictive-like response in humans. Such a gap in our knowledge has prompted the question of whether addictive-like eating is better conceptualised as a substance-related or behavioural addiction [13, 25]. This review aims to evaluate current research concerning the nutritional aspects of addictive-like eating

Nutritional Aspects of Food Addiction

Pursey, K.M., Davis, C. & Burrows, T.L.


Sample Size


Due to the paucity of studies in this area, there is currently little evidence to conclusively identify that a specific food, nutrient or ingredient is capable of triggering an addictive like response in humans. However, preliminary investigations suggest that highly processed, hyper-palatable foods with combinations of fat, sugar and salt are those that have the greatest addictive potential. Future studies should use validated dietary assessment tools in combination with behavioural indicators (e.g. YFAS or YFAS 2.0) and/or neuroimaging techniques to characterise the foods or food properties associated with addictive-like eating. The identification of a specific food or component as addictive may warrant the development of strategies or interventions to minimise maladaptive eating behaviours, as well as reduce exposure and consumption of specific foods.


Food addiction, Nutrition, Diet, Eating behaviour, Substance-related disorder, Behavioural addiction

Key Words

Pursey, K.M., Davis, C. & Burrows, T.L. Nutritional Aspects of Food Addiction. Curr Addict Rep 4, 142–150 (2017).


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